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Florida Probate Blog

The Law Offices of Adrian Philip Thomas

Qualified Renunciation

Written by on Aug 19, 2015| Posted in: General

Part II As we’ve previously written about on this blog, while one of the pleading requirements for a Will Contest or Trust Contest in Florida is a general allegation in the complaint that the contestant renounces any benefit he or she receives under the challenged document, “qualified renunciation of benefits” is a technical pleading requirement, and equity does not require actual return of benefits received in every situation. See, Qualified Renunciation) Last July we blogged about Fintak v. Fintak, 120 So.3d 177 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013), a case in which the court refused to apply the renunciation rule to allow for the dismissal of a claim made by a beneficiary who had received benefits that he would have received regardless of the instruments he was attacking. The rationale behind the Fintak decision was that the contestant did not receive under the challenged document “a benefit to which he would not be entitled […]

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Change in Statutory Duty of Un-Qualified Personal Representatives

Written by on Aug 18, 2015| Posted in: General

When a person dies, with or without a last will and testament, there is a high probability that the person who died (the “Decedent”) will have left behind obligations that must be fulfilled and other matters that must be addressed before their property can be distributed. The property that a Decedent leaves behind when he or she dies and which is the subject of administration in probate court makes up what is called the “estate.” §731.201(14), Fla. Stat. (2015). Just like a business needs a manager to run its day-to-day operations, an estate needs a manager to finish handling the Decedent’s affairs so that the estate may be distributed, either according to the terms of the Decedent’s last will and testament or under the laws of intestacy. In Florida, the person who is charged with managing, or “administering,” the Decedent’s estate is called the “Personal Representative.” §731.201(28), Fla. Stat. (2015). […]

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Can a guardian change the trustee of a ward’s trust?

Written by on Jul 27, 2015| Posted in: Guardianship Litigation

Choosing someone to act as your successor trustee upon your death or incapacity is not a decision that you should take lightly. Not only does that nominated successor trustee have a duty and obligation to carry out your wishes, but that trustee also has a fiduciary obligation to act prudently and appropriately for the benefit of the subsequent beneficiaries. However, what if that nominated successor trustee turns out to be a bad choice? What if the settlor of the trust is determined to be incapacitated and cannot alter the terms of the trust? The 5th District Court of Appeals of Florida in Rene v. Sykes-Kennedy, 156 So.3d 518 (Fla 5th DCA 2015) recently dealt with such an issue wherein a person who created a revocable trust was subsequently determined to be incapacitated. The person had nominated a granddaughter to serve as the successor trustee of the trust upon the person’s […]

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Can a contract defeat testamentary intent?

Written by on May 26, 2015| Posted in: Estate Litigation

In a word, yes. In a blow to the unwed in the State of Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeal recently held that an operating agreement entered into by a deceased business owner (the “Decedent”) trumped his stated testamentary intent to provide his longtime girlfriend with a lifetime payment of $5,000.00 per month, which was to be paid out of distributions from the company the Decedent formed with his sister.  Blechman v. Estate of Blechman, 160 So.3d 152 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015).  Despite the fact that the Decedent in Blechman had amended his trust to “to provide a ‘specific gift’ of his residence and ‘one half of the distributions from [his company], to’ a trustee for the benefit of  the Decedent’s girlfriend,” the Court refused to uphold the trial court’s order, which would have ensured the Decedent’s girlfriend received the $5,000.00 per month gift the Decedent’s estate plan provided. […]

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Florida Court Determines Wife Unduly Influenced Husband

Written by on May 8, 2015| Posted in: Probate Litigation

Florida law is well established that when a will is challenged on the grounds of undue influence, the influence must amount to over persuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances to such an extent that there is a destruction of free agency and willpower of the testator.   As probate litigators, we frequently encounter situations where a court is presented with circumstances suggesting that a elderly person has unfortunately been taken advantage of by their own spouse.  Most often the wrongdoer is a person who marries the victim just prior to death and changes the victim’s estate plan to disinherit family members who were previously the intended beneficiaries of the victim’s long standing estate plan. One such case was recently presented in Palm Beach County, Florida where the court upheld the challenge by a testator’s daughter who sought to invalidate the will that was executed a year after the […]

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BUT YOU AGREED TO MAKE ME THE BENEFICIARY!

Written by on Apr 14, 2015| Posted in: General

Whether in the context of a divorce proceeding or when a couple is preparing their estate planning together, some people agree to a contract to subsequently make a Will or Trust that names another as the primary beneficiary.  This primarily (but not always) takes place when a married couple enters into a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement and in said agreement, they each agree that they will each sign a Will that makes the other person a beneficiary. What if in this agreement, they both agree that they will never revoke or amend such a Will regardless of divorce?  What if one of them changes the Will after the divorce?  What happens when that person dies? Florida Courts have dealt with similar situations and have held that such an irrevocable contract to make a Will can be made binding and damages may be sought against the breaching party’s estate.  In Boyle […]

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Probate Creditor Claims in Florida

Written by on Apr 6, 2015| Posted in: General

ADDRESSING THE ISSUE OF CREDITOR CLAIMS FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF THE PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE One of the significant issues a Personal Representative of an Estate needs to address is that of the claims against the Estate by creditors. To administer an estate in an orderly manner, the Personal Representative must ascertain what debts and claims are to be paid by the estate, because no assets should be distributed until the Personal Representative is certain that these debts and claims can be paid. Florida Statute 733.212 states that “the Personal Representative shall promptly make a diligent search to determine the names and addresses of creditors of the decedent who are reasonably ascertainable, even if the claims are unmatured, contingent or unliquidated.”  A diligent search must be undertaken, and such a  search depends on the familiarity of the Personal Representative with the decedent’s affairs. It should include a careful review of the defendant’s […]

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Exploitation of the Elderly

Written by on Mar 18, 2015| Posted in: General

Fla. Stat. § 732.518 provides that “[a]n action to contest the validity of all or part of a will or the revocation of all or part of a will may not be commenced before the death of the testator.”  Essentially this means that interested persons cannot contest a will until after the death of the person who made the will.  But what if you know that your elderly family member or loved one has been taken advantage of by a caregiver and you want to protect him or her now? Fortunately, the Florida Legislature has provided a means of not only protecting vulnerable, elderly adults, but also punishing those who exploit them for personal gain.  Fla. Stat. § 415.1111 provides a civil cause of action against a caregiver or person who stands in a position of trust and abuses that trust through neglect, deception, or intimidation in order to defraud […]

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Mental Inequality and Undue Influence

Written by on Mar 10, 2015| Posted in: General

Mental Inequality as a Factor in Undue Influence Lawsuits As most probate litigators will acknowledge, one of the primary arguments for revoking a Will is that it was procured through the undue influence of another.  Florida courts have defined “undue influence” as over-persuasion, duress, or coercion by one over the settlor of a Will to such a degree that the Will reflects the wishes of the undue influencer as opposed to the settlor.  A key component in assessing and determining the merits of an undue influence claim is whether there existed a substantial and cognizable inequality between the mental sharpness between the settlor of the Will and the alleged undue influencer.  Although medical and mental health records are often reviewed and submitted for evidence in such cases, this factor of ‘mental inequality’ is different than alleging that the settlor lacked testamentary capacity to execute such a Will in the first […]

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